It is easy to forget how much work goes into doing five panels is. It not only eats up your time before the convention but it also chews through a good deal of time at the event itself. I did feel like I went to fewer panels than usual mostly because I spent so much time in front of the audience and not a part of it. I still attended quite a few panels all three days so I hope this posts works as well as a bit of panel feedback. If your reading this I encourage you to give feedback on any or all panels you attend in the convention forums. Most of the time attendees only talk about the panels they either love with all their heart or hate with the passion of a thousand suns. A broad range of commentary helps both the panelists and the convention in equal measure as long as your comments are thoughtful and constructive.
When a panel is run by a guest or premier speaker I set the bar fairly high. There are a lot of regular panelists who could be held to that same level but premier speakers practically demand to be held to that level.
If you brought a world-class musician to your house and then asked them to make you a complicated dinner they might be able to wow you with their culinary skills but it would be foolish to assume that would be the case. You can only realistically except some good music. In a way that is what happened with the JoJo’s Bizarre Fan Panel. Since that panel was run by a guest I figured it would be a step above the average goofy fan panel. The main problem it was just another fan panel. Kira Buckland clearly has a passion for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure so it was not a matter of a guest being forced to talk about a topic they have no interest in. The problem was the panel felt extremely unrehearsed. There were three other panelists with Kira and none of them seemed well prepared.
They started the panel talking about the general plot of all eight chapters of the Jojo’s story. The summaries all sort of rambled about the plot of each section like someone trying to remember something they read over a decade before. That sort of off the hip summary is fine during a casual conversation but during a panel it just comes off as sloppy. Also they sort of dropped spoilers like they were Xzibit putting air dams on racing cars despite the fact that they said they were going to avoid doing so.
The trivia section was probably the best part of the panel. I myself only knew the answer to one of the questions off the top of my head but the audience was doing better. They had some really nice prizes and it added a distinct energy to the panel. They ended with a JoJo’s posing contest with additional prizes. That contest was nowhere near as interesting.
I’m not sure who the panel was for. The first third was clearly for people who had not experienced the whole series but the last two parts could only really be participated in by people who knew the series very well. The problem is it felt more like those two halves never came together more than made it a panel for all levels of Jojo’s knowledge.
I feel when you have the Jojo’s Posing School at the same convention doing many of the same things only better it is hard not to be critical of a panel like this.
Charles Dunbar on the other hand restored my faith in premier speaker with Big Bads: A Look at the Mythical Adversary. His panel was basically a look at the most archetypal adversaries in mythology and legend and how they have shaped the villains of today. You have everything from Nergal, Chernobog, and Tezcatlipoca to Loki and Izanami-no-Mikoto. He had a good selection of gods, demons, and dark tricksters from all over the world with varying degrees of notoriety. He really explored each of the mythological villains and the role they played for the society that spawned them. I found the deities that started off as positive and then got dragged down by cultural shifts the most fascinating. His addition of Jesus seemed a bit like the academic version of flame-bait but at least be backed up his statement with some solid arguments of why he was on the list.
My only real complaint was that the panel only had the bare minimal amount of anime related content. After telling the story of each dark deity he has at least three modern villains who tapped into the same formula. The problem is most of the time only one of the modern examples of the archetype were anime or manga characters (if there was one at all.) I know that Charles mentioned that this basically a paper he had done for school turned into a panel but I would have liked a bit more of an anime focus at an anime convention. If he had changed all three examples into anime examples it would have felt more in line with the types of panels he usually runs for anime conventions. The panel as is was excellent. I think it could have been even better with a little tweaking for the venue.
Although she was not a premier speaker per say I will mention Katriel’s Aria of the Soul – Persona, the Self, and Mythology as she is so often Charles Dunbar’s partner in crime and a panelist of the same caliber.
I knew that if I wanted to get into a Persona panel I would have to camp the room. Such are video game panels. Kate could not go because she was avoiding Persona spoilers. There might have been a rampage if she got Koromaru spoilers.
The panel started off fairly academic. There was an examination of Jungian theory, the psychological concept of the persona, and the Thoth tarot deck.That was probably the most interesting part of the panel. The Persona games borrow a lot from psychology and mythology for their themes, characters, powers, and monsters. You will see Thor, Yamato-Takeru, Shiva, and Nyarlathotep alongside the concepts of personal unconscious and shadows. There is a good deal of material to mine as many of the pantheons involved in the game are not parts of the common knowledge. Also the influence on Jungian theory is not essential for enjoying the games but being aware of its impact does give you a deeper appreciation of the themes and mechanics of the game.
I will a little disappointed that about half way through the panel it took a much more fannish bent. Clearly the audience wanted a more fandom related panel and the conversation drifted in that direction. I can’t blame Katriel for wandering towards what the audience wanted but I would have preferred the conversation sticking more to what was on the slides but you sometimes have to give the people what they want. You can’t always have a stern task master at the front of the room who will always keep it on topic like Kate. I would really like to see this panel again but more focused on the original plan of the panel.
I just barely made it into the packed Charles Dunbar panel Sacred Symbols/Giant Robots: Symbolism and Symbolic Action in Mecha. Religion was the focus here and those symbols within the robot genre; some of the titles discussed in detail were Evangelion, RahXephon, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Xenosaga. A lot of mentions of Gnositic texts here which made me wonder why anime is so into that! The audience had a lot of title suggestions that I’d like to see further explored in the panel.
I can’t comment fully on the Giant Robots, Short Stories panel as I was only able to see the last third or so. I did come in at a great time though when Pachinko machine shorts were being shown. That sounds odd, but you can find some incredible animation created for these games. The most amazing of those shown was surely Combattler V. It is odd but kind of cool that many of these older titles can find a new bit of life in these game machines.
Also shown were some seriously amazing bank commercials of all things. This bank has a giant robot specially for car loans dontcha know! These shorts were ridiculous, I could only conclude the bank president must be a robot otaku.
Symbolic Shorthand: An Introduction to the Importance of Folktales was in a room where the air conditioning was not working for most of the panel. Considering the heat all weekend it made the room quite stifling. The fact that most of the audience stayed through the whole panel said a lot of the quality of the content and presentation.
The panels main idea was that folklore can usually be used as a way to expressing an idea near instantaneously that might otherwise take more time and be far less subtle. The problem with imagery using folklore is that the core ideas may be universal the individual stories are usually culturally specific. Someone who grew up in Japan would almost certainly understand message conveyed though the imagery in Momotarō or Urashima Tarō but these pieces of shorthand can easily fly over the heads of viewers from other countries. The panel was an attempt to introduce the audience to some of the stories that they might not but appear in anime all the time.
The first half of the panel was specific folktale stories like Issun-bōshi and the Shita-kiri Suzume with examples in anime. The panelist admitted they could have probably just used clips from Folktales from Japan for everything they were referencing but instead they used everything from Cowboy Bebop to Akame ga Kill!. The second half was more general folktale concepts that were not necessarily tied to a single story. That included things like Cherry Blossoms, The Red String of Fate, and Kotodama. I knew most of what the panelists were talking about but it was a great intro for audience members who did not constantly read Urusei Yatsura liner notes and play table top RPGs. It was a great panel for newer fans who wonder about the culturally specific references in anime but have not yet had the impetus to start researching such material on their own. It is also great for otaku who are interested in learning more but don’t know where to start.
I would have used Hayate the Combat Butler Chapter 355 to demonstrate the legend of the Straw Millionaire. (This is not actually a legitimate criticism. I just like to bring up Hayate whenever I can.)
Poetry in Anime: The Power of Words in a Visual Medium on the other hand was almost all learning time for me. I have a vague general awareness of Japanese poetry in the same way that I am generally cognizant of western poetry. I can name a few names and forms but detailed history and analysis are beyond me. I know haiku and whatever I learned about the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu from Chihayafuru and Uta Koi. So things like uta-awase poetry battles and renga poetry were completely new to me. It was certainly eye-opening. The video clip examples used live action films and anime which added a lot to retaining the information.
The most interesting tidbit was about haibun travel journals. The fact that Kino’s Journey and The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye are structured around this type of poetry was something I never caught until it was pointed out to me. It gives you a much different look at both series when you see that fact revealed.
One of the panels I liked best was Japanese Toy Collecting: Who Needs Money Anyway? It is the type of panel you only need to see once, but there are always new people at conventions and always new people to induct into the cult of toys collecting. Attendees were taken through the most popular lines of toys, given tips about prices and bootlegs, and of course how to keep all those money-sucking treasures in good condition. I went right home to put some of the tips to use!
Certain panels are very personal. List panels actually tell you a lot about the panelist who is presenting them. Most of the time there are far more choices that what is presented in the panel. If you do a panel on amazing anime openings you have hundreds of choices. What titles, genres, and versions are picked say a good deal about the panelist. The titles that are ignored, skipped, or forgotten say just as much. These panels might not be about anime openings but the content says just as much about the person running them as the subject being examined.
Know your Creators (And Directors) panels are perfect examples of this. There are a few key people everyone picks if they have done any research. A panel like this without Osamu Tezuka, the Year 24 Group, Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Satoshi Kon would be considered one with some odd oversights. Past that point it is all a mater of taste and experience. How much times do you spend of mecha if you mention it at all? Do you briefly lump all the Year 24 group in one section? If you talk about the Year 24 group individually who do you talk up and who do you spend less time on? Does boys love ever come up?
Overall I thought it was a good list. It had a nice mix of creators and directors if it was a bit biased towards shonen and seinen. My biggest complaint was the somewhat backhanded addition of Kunihiko Ikuhara. He was thrown on the list in part because he is so unique and in part so the panelist could throw some barbs his way. As a noted fan of his work that made me a bit mrgrgr. I would not throw on Mamoru Oshii on a list just to yell at him. (OK. I might. But then someone would be right to call me out on it.) I personally would have thrown in Rumiko Takahashi and Naoko Takeuchi but that is more just an insight into what I consider important. There are no right answers in the end.
In a similar vein the Great Anime We’ll (Probably) Never Get Mk II panel mostly looked at series that were very popular in Japan but never officially crossed over the Pacific Ocean for one reason or another. I think the main factor that kept most of the series in the panel from coming over was a difference in comedy between the US and Japan. Kochikame, Sexy Commando, and Gag Manga Biyori distinctly fall into that category. All of them either don’t connect with a western sense of humor or are too long to take a risk that they might not catch on. Fuma no Kojirou just falls into the trap of being based on the work of Masami Kurumada. Kurumada much like soccer is popular everywhere else in the world but the United States. The Violinist of Hameln is a wonderful story but the animation on the anime is practically nonexistent. We did a whole post on that.
The last pick in the panel was a noted controversial pick, Government Crime Investigation Agent Zaizen Jotaro. The panelist really tried to defend the show but I think the show’s infamous first episode really set most people’s opinion about the show. It is never Musashi Gundoh but very few things ever could be. If nothing else you can’t say that Zaizen Jotaro was an overly obvious choice.
Even More Awesome Animation Not from Japan is always the most fascinating panel. I’m usually a little more critical about panels at anime conventions that don’t have some tie in back to anime but I always make an exception for this one. As anime fans most of us are fans of animation in general so if you highlight unusual animation it can really grab your attention. I have seen this panel several times at AnimeNEXT and the best part is that is avoids US animation and lots of the foreign animation your likely to see on the film festival circuit. A Monster in Paris and Song of the Sea are amazing but films but also movies that get a decent amount of exposure. The animation here tends to be a bit more underground or unknown.
This years focus was on Spanish language animation. There was a lot from Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, and Argentina. There was everything from Vampires in Havana which is about the great-nephew of Dracula who lives in Cuba to a Transformers mock-buster. By the way the sequel to Vampires in Havana has Nazis and Ernest Hemingway. His final pick was from Argentina about a parody action movie character. He also threw in some animation from France, Israel, and England. Awesome Animation Not from Japan started with the most unusual pick first by showing off a piece from Zimbabwe. The Legend of the Sky Kingdom was made entirely with found items which gives it a very unique style. You can see the whole thing here if your curious.
I helped run New Anime for Older Fans and Penguindrum: The Panel for Lowlifes Who Will Never Amount to Anything with Al.
As we have fun New Anime multiple times now, there is little for me to say except that we had a full room at 10AM on Saturday to kick off the con. The audience was enthusiastic and hopefully walked away happy!
Penguindrum, much like our Otakon Ikuhara panel, gave me a lot of anxiety going in. There is just so much to cover, Penguindrum is quite rich in theme so I hope we were able to do it a little bit of justice.
For the last bit of vanity I wanted to talk a bit about my own panels. I will mention that it was so nice to have a year where I did not have any technical difficulties when trying to run the panels. There was a bit of a mad dash to change the format of my videos on Thursday night but when showtime rolled around it was smooth sailing. It helped that every time we ran a panel the staff always checked if we needed the AV crew. We never ended up needing them but it was nice to know that they would have been there to help if we were in trouble.
PreCure Party went fairly well. As an intro to the world of PreCure I think Carl and I did a fairly good job of introducing people to the various iterations of the series as well as all the merchandise surrounding it. I’m glad that we were able to get to all the clips including part of the big battle from the Pretty Cure All Stars New Stage 3 : Eternal Friends movie. I think it really shows how high energy the fighting in the series can be. When we were practicing the panel we usually ran over and we usually had to cut the clip.
If you want a brief summary it would be that PreCure is the Gundam of magical girl shows that take the Sailor Moon template and add more action. If you only watch one iteration of the series it should be HeartCatch PreCure!
If I ran the panel again I would probably change the title. I think as it stands it only attracts people who are already fans of the franchise. I think something that more generically plays up the magical girl aspect would get more of the people we would want to learn about PreCure especially considering how little presence it has in the English-speaking world.
Carl and I also did the Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha panel. Of all the aspects of mecha series that people talk about the romance in said series is often seen more as garnish than a main ingredient. Also much like parsley romance is often either ignored or just shuffled off to the side on the plate like an inconvenience. That is a shame because two characters in love can sometimes be awkward and tacked on but there are some really strong romantic plots in mecha shows. If Carl had his way the panel could have easily been Romance in Eureka Seven panel and nothing else. But the panel covered everything from the origins of romance in mecha anime with Tōshō Daimos, to the heartfelt The Vision of Escaflowne, and even the comedic Godannar. Of course there was a good deal of Marcoss as well.
The only major hitch with the panel was it ran a little under the time we had allotted. Much like the PreCure panel it ran over in rehearsal but ran shorter when it was showtime. Carl entertained the audience with some silly robot clips until the end of the panel.
Grand Glorious Gathering of Gundam Gals was my attempt to look at the women of Gundam. The opinion over the quality of the women in Gundam is something that seems to be radially different depending on who you ask. It is easy to find people praising the women in Gundam to high heaven as it is to find commentators who find the whole franchise filled with nothing but gross misogyny. I tried to go through all the main animated series and show the range of women in the franchise. In the end I hope I helped people see the various series in a more nuanced manner. I felt like there were more great women in Gundam than lousy ones. That said even the best iterations has problematic elements so no series was free from criticism. It was just important to note for every Mobile Suit Gundam AGE that was filled with less than stellar examples there was a Turn A Gundam or The 08th MS Team.
If I ran the panel again I might narrow the focus and bring on a co-panelist to a bit more contrasting opinions on certain women. I think a woman doing her own version of the panel or a mixed gendered version of the panel would be even better.
The best part was I actually found the Relena Peacecraft defense force. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who was such an ardent supporter of the princess of the Sanc Kingdom in real life let alone two of them. Thankfully no one decided to try to defend Quess Paraya or Nina Purpleton so fiercely.
AnimeNEXT has been continually upping the ante on panel programming the last few years, I fully expect that to continue into their move to Atlantic City. Maybe soon, AnimeNEXT will have the competition to present panels there that Otakon has.
Unsung Heroes: The Greatest Anime & Manga Artists You’ve Never Heard Of – Like I mentioned with Know your Creators these panels are always a look into the person presenting the panel. I am curious what sort of person ran this panel.
Back In My Day – Conventions and Cosplay Before 2010 – As someone in my 30s I have to say this is an extremely amusing idea. I feel like it is naming a panel “Classical Music: Mozart, Beethoven, The Beatles, and Christina Aguilera.”
The Heart of When They Cry (18+) – I had plans to see this panel but the need to get some amount of sleep prevented me from attending this panel.
In the End Robots Will Fight: The Works of Masami Obari (18+) – Also an interesting panel but even later at night.
Women in Anime – I really wanted to hear what Aya Suzuki said about women in the industry.
20 More Manga Recommendations for Grown Ups (18+) – Xan usually has some unusual picks so I was curious what he was recommending this year.
Other AnimeNEXT 2015 Coverage: